A new S-Class usually heralds the arrival of myriad new tech and safety features. But technology does not wait, not even for the top Mercedes. Is the latest s still a techno-wunder-mobile?
You can approach the Mercedes-Benz S-Class with a degree of trepidation, especially if you’ve an inclination toward technophobia. With its reputation as a tech leader, is the new S going to be all too much?
Not likely, as the traditional hierarchy has been upturned by a continually disruptive tech world. Mercedes-Benz couldn’t wait for a new S-Class generation to release innovations like its MBUX onboard assistant/infotainment unit. So things inside the latest S-Class will be familiar to Benz faithful, though much of it is presented in a novel fashion. The S-Class debuts a few new tricks, although these are rather updates or new additions to existing tech suites.
Despite this, it makes a suitably wowing impression befitting of the luxury king. The styling is evolutionary, no real surprise there, but the way the new flush-fitting door handles present themselves is new. Board the comfort express and a new interior concept greets you, one where the light show and dazzling ensemble of screens grab your attention.
The supple seats are clad in soft leather, most surfaces lined with cow hide or a convincing replica thereof. There are 19 motors employed in the front seats to allow for multi-way adjustment, ventilation and 10 different massage programmes. The relaxation functions of the latter are best avoided at night, otherwise the safety systems will be called upon. You can adjust the squeeze of the bolsters and how deep the lumbar support penetrates. Additional heating units on the armrests make it a cocoon of warmth on cold mornings. It’s all about you inside this machine.
While it’s all very impressive, the gloss black trim and touchscreen require liberal use of the supplied cleaning cloth to remove your fingerprints and there’s one sharpish edge on the centre console that we wish wasn’t there. Lexus craftsmen would not have allowed the unsightly seam sealing inside the front doors to be visible when you open them.
The standard Burmester sound system does the business, with Rammstein never sounding so good (the heavy German rockers seemed appropriate, nein?). Haptic buttons on the wheel require a deft touch if, say, you want to nudge the cruise speed up a click or two, or change the look of the dials. Like most of the controls here, these have a familiarity to them (if you’ve driven a Benz lately) but have been restyled for the new generation.
The touchscreen, now 64 per cent larger, rules all but it has Benz’s familiar menus making it easier to fathom. The death of the mouse controller is welcome. This new system is quick and easy to use. Long time S-Class owners may have been miffed the MBUX system debuted in the lowly A-Class, but it meant Merc has now amassed much more user data. The S does get the privilege of introducing MBUX Mk II, now with 50 per cent more computing power so there are fewer ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand’ moments. ‘Mercedes’ can perform a multitude of tasks; for example, the sat nav is particularly easy to instruct via the voice assistant, though for other functions it’s sometimes just easier to tap the screen. This even has a haptic feedback to it, giving it that tactility that some might miss. You can bemoan the lack of buttons but if there was a switch for every function, they’d be all over the dash, console, even the ceiling. And yet the kids still found plenty of things to push, pull and prod. And we’re not sure the newfound ability of MBUX to listen to everyone in the car (previously it was chiefly the driver) is such a good thing. Our most frequent command was “stop talking to the bloody car.” A pity the children aren’t as obiliging as the MBUX system.
Active ambient lighting is new, taking the light show to a new level. When the car’s talking, a section of the dash flashes to help personify the assistant. Shades of Michael Knight and KITT then. And it now forms part of the safety alert system, blinking red when something requires your attention.
As to the car itself, it uses an aluminium/steel hybrid bodyshell, the alloy content now surpassing 50 per cent. Merc says that has allowed it to increase the size of the S, and add more features while keeping weight in check. It’s now even longer at 5179mm, 50mm wider and 71mm longer in the wheelbase, much of that given over to rear seat leg room. There’s also more elbow room in the wider cabin, and more head space. The boot capacity has increased by 20 litres, and is now up to 550 litres.
S-Class gives its customers many different options, including a Long version with 110mm added to the wheelbase, and there are five different rear seat variations, while you can also option up to five screens around the cabin. Standard on the Long and optioned for this S 450, the back seats are multiway adjustable, reclining nicely while a downy pillow on the headrest facilities nigh-nighs time. You’re not struggling for legroom in this standard length car, although there is a decent sill to negotiate on entry and exit that might be made easier with the longer car. The boot space is enormous, the hold being long, deep and wide enough, accessed via a powered lid.
The first model available locally is the S 450 at $215,000, and the L is $235,900. A V8-powered 580 L will arrive soon at $291,700, along with an OTT Maybach 680 at $492,799.
The 450 uses an electrified 3.0-litre straight six. On its own it makes 270kW and 500Nm, while a 16kW and 250Nm motor paired with the nine-speed auto helps out when it can. The claims include an average of 8.2L/100km (expect more like 10L/100km) and 5.1 seconds (which we can’t verify as our timing gear had a spaz on the day) but it feels genuinely brisk.
Thanks to the engine’s e-blower and the electric torque, there’s good shove from truly basement engine speeds. And with the motor acting as the starter, the idle stop function is smooth and seamless. Select the Eco drive setting and the engine will enter sleep mode as part of the extended coasting function. In the default Comfort mode, everything is calm and easy as there’s always enough oomph for any eventuality. The nine-speed trans is usually in the right gear and is quick to sort itself when it’s not. Boost it off the mark, and it launches sweetly, AWD ensuring every newton-metre counts.
The steering is light and quick at town speeds, although the turning circle is large without the optional rear steer package, which can trim two metres from the turn around. The S is massive, a notion quickly evident in every parking lot you enter where it fills every square millimetre of the spot you anchor up in. Benz usually includes an excellent parking camera, though this one seems oddly distorted when reversing. However, there are many different angles to help. And it’s a luxo barge after all so parking is the valet’s problem.
Air springs are standard, and the constantly adaptive damping lends this a thoroughly decent ride, even with the obligatory oversized alloys and low profile rubber. Yet it’s not too wafty either, the damping qualities sound in the way they limit movement, particularly over annoying things like speed bumps where they soak up the initial hit and then control the urge for it to buck up. And if you’ve gotten used to your SUV’s ground clearance, there’s a lift button to raise it up when things look iffy ahead.
It’s a very easy drive. Set the active cruise and you barely need to do much behind the wheel. Benz’s driving assist features are by far the best we’ve tried. In traffic it can handle the ever-changing nature of lanes and road markings, doesn’t get caught up worrying about turning traffic ahead, and adjusts speed in a calm manner. On the highway, the route-based speed adaptation is possibly hindered by NZ’s average GPS accuracy; it tends to slow you in the corner, rather than before it, but otherwise works well at these higher speeds too.
Sport mode adds a layer of control to the progress on winding roads but still the damping remains civil, absorbent. Letting the S run, you start to feel the weight in the bends, though it turns rather well, helped by just-right steering assistance and a dab of feel. Step up to Sport+ and air springs add extra firmness to further quell the roll and sharpen the turn in. However, while it’s capable, it’s not particularly willing. Best buy a big sports sedan if you’re into that stuff. Here the six shows its other side, able to rev hard and fast where it makes good power, and all the while doing so smoothly and sounding good. It’s an epic engine.
Speaking of combustion, mention of the electric elephant in the room is overdue with EQS inbound within months. Merc’s all-electric S-Class equivalent promises relative price parity, and it’s something we’d probably wait for. But for the traditionalist, this S-Class will suit you well.
|Model||Mercedes-Benz S 450|
|Engine||2999cc, IL6, T/DI, 270kW/500Nm|
|Drivetrain||9-speed auto, all-wheel drive|